Depressed? Why Physical Activity May Be The Answer

Posted on November 9, 2016 at 11:10 AM

Snap out of it. Just be happy. Why are you so sad all of the time? Focus on the good stuff. Don’t let the little things get you down….

Sound familiar? Inevitably (and quite normally), we’re all a little blue some days of the year. But what if it’s more than that?

Are you suffering from depression?

When poor mood and inability to experience pleasure persist for more than two weeks, in conjunction with a lack of energy and cognitive deterioration, a diagnosis of major depressive disorder is made(1).

Depression is widespread, affecting as many as one in six people over the age of 18, and remaining a recurring problem throughout adulthood and old age for many(1). The current go-to treatment for depression is pharmacological, which is a fancy word for drugs.

But those drugs intended to help one suffering from depression, may actually make the problem worse by imparting a long list of nasty side effects. While some people taking antidepressants do report a greater quality of life and decrease in negative obsessive thought(2), many more people say the numerous side effects of antidepressants overshadow their potential benefits.

Antidepressant side effects are not pleasant. They include:

• Anxiety

• Increased suicide risk

• Sexual dysfunction

• Nausea/vomiting

• Insomnia or extreme sedation

• Anorexia or weight gain

In addition to these nasty side effects, there may be a two-week delay between the time an individual begins to take medication and the time they begin to notice results(3). Some people even fail to respond to medication all together(4).

So what’s an alternative to consider?

You can exercise!

Studies show that treating depression via physical activity is just as effective as taking antidepressants(5). Each benefit attained via antidepressants can be achieved by following a physical activity regime(5). Furthermore, there are no known side effects of using physical activity to manage depression, AND the occurrence of antidepressant side effects, such as anxiety, insomnia, and weight gain, DECREASE with physical activity!(6)

Remember that two-week delay I mentioned in regards to antidepressant taking effect? Physical activity exerts virtually immediate antidepressant effects, with mood improving just 30 minutes after commencing physical activity for some.

The benefits of physical activity continue: Physical activity is appropriate for people with depression who fail to respond to medication, and it is not contraindicated with any medications individuals may already be taking (as antidepressants can be). People who are prescribed physical activity to manage depression are also less likely (than people taking antidepressants) to experience a relapse later in life upon completion of treatment(5).

So how do you exercise?

It is recommended that you get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week, with all days being ideal(6). That’s it folks, just 30 minutes a day is all you need to set aside. Do this, and before long you’ll inevitably see mind (and body!) improvements.

Now, I’m not asking you to become a top athlete, or even an athlete at all for that matter, so please do not become discouraged by the words physical activity. Moderate-intensity activities may include anything from jogging to squats and lunges. If you want some guidance in this area, a personal trainer can help you draft up a workout schedule.

Meditation is also an excellent way to calm the mind and focus the thoughts, and it is a nice complement to a regular exercise routine. If meditation interests you, get in touch with Harmony in Health to discuss your options!

That’s the skinny on managing depression with physical activity versus antidepressants. I hope you can use this information to start chasing away the blues and get your mind (and body) feeling great!


Interested in learning more? Check out these references cited in the post:

1. Penninx, B. W. J. H., Milaneschi, Y., Lamers, F., & Vogelzangs, N. (2013). Understanding the somatic consequences of depression: biological mechanisms and the role of depression symptom profile. BMC Medicine, 11(1), 129. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-129


2. MIT Medical. (2015). FAQ: Antidepressants. Retrieved from MIT Medical:

3. Mitchell, A. J. (2006). Two-week delay in onset of action of antidepressants: new evidence. The British Journal of Psychiatry : The Journal of Mental Science, 188(2), 105–6. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.105.011692


4. Rot, M., Mathew, S. J., & Charney, D. S. (2009). Neurobiological mechanisms in major depressive disorder. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 180(3), 305–13. doi:10.1503/cmaj.080697


5. Brosse, A. L., Sheets, E. S., Lett, H. S., & Blumenthal, J. a. (2002). Exercise and the treatment of clinical depression in adults: recent findings and future directions. Sports Medicine, 32(12), 741–60. Retrieved from


6. Peluso, M., & Andrade, L. (2005). Physical activity and mental health: The association between exercise and mood. Clinics, 60(1), 61–70.


7. Salmon, P. (2001). Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: a unifying theory. Clinical Psychology Review, 21(1), 33–61. Retrieved from


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